This is the first in a series of guides designed to help founders looking to successfully launch a new devtools, cloud, API or other developer focused product, and build their first cohort of users.
For our first guide, we explain why understanding your brand positioning is as important as setting out your brand's visual identity. Branding is a wide-reaching and messy discipline. While your brand will inevitably evolve over time, the branding decisions you make early on (consciously or unconsciously) will play a big role in the success of your launch and early growth. In the early stages of your growth getting your brand right is important. It is a key driver in:
- Distinguishing your product with developers.
- Supporting your marketing efforts & raising awareness with customers.
- Engaging and building trust with your customers.
Your company's brand defines the immediate response your first customers will have with your product and the impact of your earliest marketing campaigns. Over time the impact of your brand can have impressive compounding effects on your business, driving improved customer conversion, retention, and even play an important role in attracting key hires. Indeed, some of the world's biggest companies (Apple, Airbnb, Nike) ascribe their brand positioning as some of their most valuable IP.
A brand's importance lies with the role it can play in building a relationship with your customers. A good brand can't save a poor product; but a good brand can deepen the impact of a strong product, accelerating your marketing efforts and customer engagement.
Beyond a visual identity
To begin, let’s distinguish between your brand identity (what people can see / touch) and the more ephemeral concept of your brand positioning which covers things like personality, experience and promise.
Your brand identity is typically things like your company name, logo and the aesthetic or UI decisions you make about your product. A brand identity will manifest itself visually, but it also communicates your brand positioning. In short, to define your brand identity, you need to work on your brand positioning first. If the goal of branding is to connect with your customers and communicate your brand in a holistic sense, then your visual identity is just one part of the solution.
Most founders are focused on launching and getting developers using their product as soon as possible. They come up with a neat sounding name and then at some point work with a designer to take care of their visual identity. The visual identity exists so that they can launch the product, and create a landing page, not necessarily so that it can support their brand's positioning.
The product launches and they hustle their way to their first customers, proving product-market fit. Perhaps they raise some money and at some point hire a senior designer or marketer. It's only now that they begin to try and understand the company's brand positioning.
To build a strong, coherent brand, we advise founders to consider their brand positioning from day one. Set in place the fundamentals of your branding so that you can build a visual identity and messaging for your customers that is clear, consistent, and aligns with your company's goals. To achieve this, you'll need to consider creating a brand document that explores the following concepts.
Audience personas are an attempt to understand who will use your product. Rarely do audiences fall into simple persona buckets, but creating a few customer profiles will help you understand whether the brand you’re creating appeals to these personas.
Here are some questions to consider:
- Who will use my product? e.g. Will they be a CTO or a data scientist?
- What other products and brands do they use? e.g. Are they more likely to be using macOS or Linux?
- What are their values? Do they value the privacy of their data?
- Where do they live? e.g. US vs India
- Career position? Are they likely to be a CTO or a junior engineer?
- Where do they spend time to learn about tech? e.g. HN vs Dev.to?
- What communities are they part of? Reddit, Discord, Slack?
Internally, audience personas also are a helpful steer for designers, marketers and customer service teams to understand their target audiences's needs.
As you grow, you can revisit your audience personas by supplementing your initial assumptions with both quantitative and qualitative feedback from real customers. Ahead of launching, audience personas are most likely to be created based on your understanding of who you are building your product for.
What does your business do, what are your goals and what do you stand for? Your company’s mission is a concise outline of your company’s purpose.
Compare these three developer-focussed companies mission and how their brand identity aligns perfectly with their company’s mission:
HashiCorp is a remote-first company headquartered in San Francisco that solves development, operations, and security challenges in infrastructure so organizations can focus on business-critical tasks.
Hashicorp solves critical problems for businesses. Its sharp edged identity bleeds professionalism that looks ready to take on the most challenging problems.
Brave is on a mission to fix the web by giving users a safer, faster and better browsing experience while growing support for content creators through a new attention-based ecosystem of rewards.
Brave’s name says it all. A bold (brave) new way to think about how the web works. The strong lion logo and fierce red colour palette evokes their mission of passionately standing up for the user, offering a new way to browse.
We are on a mission to make the digital world a safer place. Thousands of companies all over the world use Snyk to help their engineering teams develop faster, and more securely. We are at the forefront of modern development processes, empowering developers globally through our automated security tools, remediation advice and leading vulnerability database. Developer by developer, we are shaping the future of security.
Snyk’s logo screams 'we'll keep you safe'. A motif typically found on alarm systems, the guard dog instantly communicates that this product is here to keep people safe in line with their company's mission.
Many founders of B2B products tend to think that brand personality is something that matters only for consumer brands, but as we’ve argued before, in the age of the developer the key decision makers are typically individual developers who are not immune to brands that align with their own identity.
Starting out, defining your brand’s personality is a largely intuitive process. This will often even be informed by the founders' own personalities.
At this stage, simply trying to find a few words that would describe your brand's personality will probably be enough to inform the tone for future engagement with your customers.
- How do you want people to remember your brand?
- How do you want people to feel when they interact with your brand?
- How do you want your brand to stand out from your competitors?
Returning to your audience persona will help inform the tone of the brand and how it engages with customers. Your website’s copy and style guide are the most immediate ways that you will be able to show your brand's personality.
Atlassian's home page has oodles of personality. It’s the closest a home page could get to offering an open-armed embrace.
JetBrains striking, colourful visual identity exude dynamism and momentum that shouts ‘we’re a progressive tool for developers’.
When most effective, your brand identity and positioning can help your company stand out from the competition.
A strong brand that communicates a coherent brand promise to your customers will compound the effectiveness of all your marketing channels. From increasing recall from paid media campaigns, and evoking trust and interest on a landing page to developing a relationship with your customers that turns them into willing advocates.
Your brand promise works as a more practical extension of your company mission, setting out clearly what you offer to your customers, ensuring that your brand identity and positioning can match these expectations.
A common mistake founders make is assuming that a strong brand is a slick brand. A good brand is one that marries its brand identity and positioning to its value proposition. European budget airline Ryanair may not at first glance appear like a well thought through brand, but its visual identity is distinctive and its design coheres 100% with its cheap and cheerful offering leaving customers in no doubt what their value proposition is.
Your value proposition should inform how you manifest your brand.
In a crowded category, a strong brand can help both a product stand out visually, but also offer a positioning that distinguishes it from its competitors. Communicating how your product is better can often be challenging. A well thought through brand can elevate a product by clearly communicating its value proposition and providing an emotional connection with your customers that recognize it.
To support your brand positioning work, research your competitors to understand how you compare. Being memorable doesn't necessarily mean that you visually clash with your competitors, indeed many of the best brands fit an archetype that aligns with their customer's expectations within a category, but it does require you to be sufficiently distinctive.
Practical ways to communicate your brand
In part two of our guide to building a brand for developers, having set out a framework to think about your brand positioning, we'll explore some of the practical ways you can clearly communicate your brand to developers when you launch your product.